WRACtivists learn multi-level approach to social change

The Women’s Resource and Action Center’s (WRAC) social justice volunteer program, The WRACtivists, completed another active year in 2017-18. The program is designed following the Midwest Academy’s model for advancing the struggle for social, economic, and racial justice. Originally called IWIS, or Iowa Women Initiating Social Change, the program name was changed 7 years ago to reflect the changing make-up of the WRAC volunteer community. Each year between 30 and 40 volunteers train to become WRACtivists, working on projects throughout the fall and spring, which they choose as a group early in the semester or take on as issues arise throughout the year. About their experience as a WRACtivist, recent Iowa grad Ellen Kuehnle says, “being a a WRACtivist taught me how to plan and implement a campaign, how to organize and work with allies in the community, and gave me a family on campus.”

As part of the Midwest Academy model, WRACtivists learn about three different approaches to creating social change. The first of the approaches is direct action. As a direct action this year, WRACtivists helped to plan the annual Take Back the Night rally and march during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, which they have had a role in for over 10 years, as well as participating in the March for Our Lives in Iowa City in March, in spite of a blizzard. Volunteers also created and handed out buttons to the participants in the march.

WRACtivist button handed out at March for Our Lives


WRACtivists Elizabeth Oxer and Ellen Kuehnle

The second approach in the Midwest Academy model is creating information campaigns. In one of their main projects this year, the group researched a project focusing on the process of restoring the voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals which they will be turning into an information campaign about voting rights in the state of Iowa. Beginning this fall they will be working directly with the Inside/Out Reentry Community which provides services to individuals returning from incarceration.
Volunteers will be working with Inside/Out to advocate with clients go through the process of applying for their voting rights to be restored in the state of Iowa. Michelle Heinz, executive director of the program, is herself a former WRAC volunteer. Additionally, members of the WRACtivists lobbied Iowa state representatives and senators about voting rights and gained important insight into the political process of how voting rights for formerly incarcerated citizens might be restored at a policy level.

The third of the approaches to social change is to work at the policy level, and the WRACtivists got vital experience working on several policy issues in the past year. They met in an advisory capacity on several occasions with Monique DiCarlo, the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator for the University of Iowa, to share their insight and opinions related to the 2017 Climate Survey and the recommendations which were made based on the data collected from that survey. They saw first hand how policy is created at a complex institution like the University of Iowa and were able to positively influence the process from the viewpoint of the people most impacted by that policy, UI students.

“I knew social justice was what I was most passionate about when I came to college, and WRAC gave me opportunities that I didn’t have in high school…I know now that no matter where I go after graduation, I will volunteer.”


WRACtivists lobbying Senator Joe Bolkcom, March, 2018

The students who are WRACtivists gain important skills and insight working on their projects, both about issues and about themselves. Not every group gets a “win,” though WRACtivists have had a role in changing several university policies and a city law, butnonetheless they leave their mark on WRAC and the UI community.  Marisa Gordinier, a WRACtivist and UI grad who has worked with WRACtivists on a policy-level project aimed at making taxis safer, says, “I knew social justice was what I was most passionate about when I came to college, and WRAC gave me opportunities that I didn’t have in high school…I know now that no matter where I go after graduation, I will volunteer.”

2018 Year In Review

This article is part of the 2018 Year in Review, which highlights some of the Division of Student Life's accomplishments from the previous academic year.

Go to Year in Review